- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 15, 2009

LONDON | British Airways cabin crews are set to strike over Christmas, their union said Monday, throwing the plans of thousands of holiday travelers into uncertainty at one of the busiest times of the year.

Strikes are to begin Dec. 22 and run until Jan. 2, said Len McCluskey, the assistant general secretary for Britain’s Unite union. Mr. McCluskey said 92.5 percent of workers voted in favor of striking.

“You don’t often get ballot results like this unless there is a deep-rooted sense of anxiety, concern and anger,” Mr. McCluskey said at a news conference.

Shares in British Airways fell 0.7 percent immediately after the strike announcement but rebounded and closed Monday down 0.2 percent at $3.28.

The struggling carrier has announced sweeping changes as part of its bid to cut costs, including axing 1,700 jobs, freezing pay for current staff and offering lower wages for new employees. The airline has suffered along with the rest of the industry because of lower demand for travel during the global recession.

Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh called the action “completely unjustified” and accused unions of misleading cabin crews over the necessity and fairness of the airline’s new pay and work proposals.

“It’s no secret that British Airways is in financial difficulty. Like other global airlines, we have been hit extremely hard by the slump in business travel brought on by the world recession,” Mr. Walsh said.

“Reducing costs is absolutely essential even to begin heading back toward profitability and long-term survival.”

Mr. Walsh said the company is “working hard on contingency plans and will announce them as soon as they are finalized.”

The airline, which is struggling as the global downturn eats away at demand for air travel, has defended the cost-savings measures as necessary to return to profit. The carrier posted a net loss of $346 million for the six months ending in September, its first-ever loss in the period, as revenue fell 13.7 percent.

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